12 October 2010

5 Things My Son's Stay In The Hospital Taught Me About The Practice Of Law

Last week I was unexpectedly in New York City at Beth Israel Hospital for five days to be with my son who underwent emergency abdominal surgery. In the course of watching the care he received I noted a few points that seemed applicable to us lawyers.
  1. Make Sure Your Instructions Are Being Followed. Every day my son’s surgeon would come around. Let’s call him Dr. Gabe (not real name). He was knowledgeable, smart and compassionate. He’d leave orders for the folks providing the daily care to my son. “Take off the IV.” “Change to this painkiller.” Whatever. Inevitably he’d come back later in the day or the next morning and discover that the staff had ignored him. “Why do you still have that IV?” He’d say the next morning, and then storm off to make sure it got done or even do it himself. It was frustrating for him but even more frustrating for my son. I think he ended up staying in the hospital an extra day out of six because of this pattern. What instructions of yours are being ignored?
  2. Explain Why. Nothing drove my son nuts more than someone doing some medical thing to him when that person couldn’t or wouldn’t explain why it was being done. He was happy to be a good patient when he understood the reason for things. Have you explained “why” to your clients lately?
  3. Never Forget Why You Are There. A friend who is a lawyer for a major hospital chain once joked, “Rich, the practice of hospital law would be so much easier if there were no patients.” While the majority of the caregivers we dealt with were solid and compassionate, there were those who had clearly taken my friend’s joke to heart in terms of the practice of medicine. Do your associates and fellow partners understand why you are practicing law?
  4. Tell The Truth. One thing the hospital got right was not sugar coating the situation. It was serious and they told my son, me and my ex exactly what they really thought was going on. But guess what, when it turned out not to be so bad, we were so relieved and happy. When you tell someone they are likely to wake up from surgery with a colostomy bag, and they wake up and they don’t have one – great. If you don’t tell them about that possibility or down play it, and they do wake up with one, guess what... I hate it when doctors sugarcoat it. BTW, telling the truth is not the same as managing expectations; managing expectations is form of lying. What are you telling your clients?
  5. Just Do It. Sometimes the nurses or doctors or whoever would say. “Sure, we’ll do [insert procedure]. I’ll be right back.” And then they’d disappear. Sometimes for hours. When you promise something, deliver it when you promised you would. Period. No excuses. Unless, of course, your son is undergoing emergency abdominal surgery... Do you need to get back to your client about something?
BTW, my son is out of the hospital and doing fine though he won’t be doing sit-ups anytime soon!

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth


  1. Great post! I am glad that your son is doing better.

  2. If only all hospital staff would read this post!

    Glad your son is okay!

  3. Good post! #1 seems to be a good one for patient advocates to remember too.

  4. My experience exactly at Beth Israel a few years ago with my Dad, who died there at the very ripe old age of 90. Not a lot of attention to detail I'm afraid. Here's a major rule to observe: Do not wind up in a general hospital in the city of New York with the back-up doctors over Christmas weekend. Really risky. Things won't go well.

    I'm so glad your son is doing so well!!!

  5. Rich, you raise excellent points that we try and educate our injured consumers about every day. When going into a hospital, you must act as your own advocate and have a family member watch constantly. They are frequent miscommunications, mistakes and careless errors made simply because an instruction was never followed or heard.

    Thanks for this informative post.

    Law Office of Gerald Oginski, LLC